Though the conference will experience a drop-off during the coming season, it isn't falling off the map completely. Darren Collison, Jon Brockman, Chase Budinger and James Harden return, chasing national honors and a host of quality freshmen are set to make their mark, hoping to fill the rather large hole left by their NBA-bound or recently graduated predecessors.
A sensational recruiting class and a surprise return from Collison keeps UCLA ahead of the Pac.
The Good: The Bruins will likely feature the top backcourt in the country: A unit that includes potential All Americans in Darren Collison and super-frosh Jrue Holiday; the highly talented but oft-injured Josh Shipp, sharpshooter Mike Roll, and two more much-anticipated freshmen; McDonald's All American Malcom Lee and point guard Jerime Anderson. Holiday is quite possibly the most complete player in the country and will step in to replace lottery pick Russell Westbrook with little to no drop off. Those six players form what many consider the most formidable back court rotation in years for the Pac-10. Up front, the Bruins return a solid cast of role players in former McDonald's All American James Keefe and senior Alfred Aboya, but their long-term strength lies in two sensational freshmen, Drew Gordon and J'Mison "Bobo" Morgan. Both are stellar long term prospects and will be depended on for defense and rebounding as their offensive skills develop over time.
The Bad: The Bruins lost their three top scorers who accounted for nearly 45 points a game. Josh Shipp was a shadow of his former self the second half of the season clearly effected by a bad hip and the Bruins roster has been decimated by injury the last two seasons. Despite the quality talent down low, the Bruin's front court is woefully under-experienced and both freshmen posts are raw offensively, needing time to before they become impact Pac-10 players. The Bruins were mediocre from outside last season and will be worse off this coming season if Roll and Shipp aren't recovered. The biggest loss may be Mbah a Moute, whose offensive game never quite manifested itself the way many expected, but who sensational versatility on defense allowed him to guard four positions.
Outlook: The Bruins have officially signaled their return to the NCAA elite with a third consecutive final four appearance behind the extraordinary coaching of Coach Ben Howland, but now face the inevitable downside of their spectacular success – early NBA defection. The Bruins have the horses and depth back court to carry their inexperienced posts, as well as survive an injury or two. Jrue Holiday is poised for super-stardom, while Collison appears ready to prove that he deserves mention amongst the nations elite point guards. Malcom Lee stands ready should Shipp's struggles last season carry over into this year but the early prognosis has been good that Shipp will be able to return to full strength. The Bruins depth will allow the young players to learn without trying to carry the team but Gordon and Morgan must be ready to make an impact when their name is called. If the Bruins can overcome there inexperience in the post, a fourth straight trip to the Final Four is within their grasp.
Key Losses: Mata-Real C, Love C, Westbrook G, Mbah a Moute PF
Incoming Class (2008 recruiting National Rank #1):
Jrue Holiday SG
Malcom Lee PG
Jerime Anderson PG
Drew Gordon PF
PG Collison SR
SG Holiday FR
SF Shipp SR
PF Keefe JR
C Aboya SR
Head Coach Tim Floyd has his rising Trojans on a role.
The Good: Things should return to normal this season for Head Coach Tim Floyd and his USC Trojans. Taj Gibson leads an exceptional cast of seasoned veterans, bolstered by the arrival of one of the nation's top prep stars, Demar Derozan. On paper, the Trojans appear to be the most balanced team in the conference. Junior guards Dwight Lewis and Daniel Hackett were key components on back-to-back tournament teams, and provide Coach Floyd with a significant size advantage against a Pac-10 conference full of undersized backcourts. Both players stand 6-foot-5 and are expected to shoulder larger scoring loads than last season. Gibson is one of the better power forwards in the country and a bigger scoring threat than his 10.8 points a game suggested last season. Departed point guard OJ Mayo more than doubled (536 to 238) Gibson's field goal attempts. Freshmen wing Derozan will fill the small forward role. He is a human highlight film with out-of-this-world hops and a game that can be dominating at times, drawing comparisons to a young Vince Carter. If North Carolina transfer Alex Stephenson is granted immediate eligibility as expected, the Trojans gain a Roy Williams-trained, former McDonald's All American who averaged nearly 15 minutes a game for the Tarheels while backing up Tyler Hansbrough. Stepheson would immediately find himself among the top posts in the conference. The Trojans have a deep bench that includes JC transfer Donte Smith, one of the nations top Juco players, as well as 7-foot center Mamadou Diarra and energetic forward Casey Cunningham.
The Bad: It's tough to find any glaring weaknesses with this team, and all of the major concerns stem from off-the-court problems. The lingering stain of OJ Mayo's short tenure and subsequent representation scandal will hang over the team like a cloud until the NCAA's investigation is concluded but it doesn't figure to have much effect on the court. Floyd continues to court the brightest stars in the country, but it comes at the price of the programs soul. Last year it was Mayo and the glaring scrutiny that came with it. This season, rapper Percy "Lil Romeo" Miller joins the team, taking a scholarship from a player who actually needs and deserves it. Until Floyd stops recruiting like a circus ringmaster, his Trojans will continue to garner a second rate Pac-10 reputation despite their recent history of success. At least they'll have the most accomplished cheerleader in the conference.
Outlook: The Trojans are a good team; potentially a great team that could give the Bruins a serious run for their money because of their advantage in the front court. A solid nucleus of experienced, players, augmented by the outrageously talented Derozan, and one of the strongest benches in the conference should be enough to guarantee them a top three finish,, but anything less than a deep NCAA tournament run will be a disappointment.
Key Losses: Mayo PG, Jefferson F, Angelo Johnson PG
Incoming Class (2008 recruiting National Rank #26):
Demar DeRozan SF
Donte Smith PG
Percy Miller PG
Leonard Marshall SF
PG Hackett JR
SG Lewis JR
SF DeRozan FR
PF Stephenson JR
C Gibson JR
Huskies return one of the Pac-10's most experienced squads, but will a trio of talented freshmen guards be enough to solve the team's back court woes?
The Good: Jon Brockman returns as the conference's top returning post player after averaging 17.8 points and 11.6 rebounds a game. He is the heart and soul of a squad loaded with quality depth and is licking his chops now that most of the height has gone from the conference. The Huskies are also expecting big things from London native Mathew Bryan-Amaning, who averaged 16.9 points and 7.3 rebounds a game with great Great Britian in the European U20 championships this past summer. The biggest improvement should come back court though as the Huskies add three versatile guards; Scott Suggs, Elston Turner and Isaiah Thomas. Thomas in particular is a sensational scorer and passer, who will provide an immediate boost for a backcourt that struggled to find any offensive rhythm last year. Quincy Pondexter should take his place amongst the top small forwards in the conference and is considered the key to unlocking the team's full potential. Senior Justin Dentmon has moved to a shooting guard role after spending his first three seasons at the point, and appears finally ready to make the jump fans and coaches have been expecting the last two season. Venoy Overton raised eyebrows last season with his tenacity and speed while Justin Holiday has been one of the biggest early practice surprises and is expected to be a disruptive defensive force.
The Bad: The Huskies' free throw shooting was abysmal last year, among the worst in the country, and the two biggest prime culprits are still on the roster; Jon Brockman (52 percent) and Artem Wallace (24 percent). Toss in Byran-Amaning (35 percent) who managed just 50 percent from the stripe this past summer during the Euro Championships, and the Huskies could be facing disaster if they don't make significant improvements. Quincy Pondexter has been an enigma for Washington; undeniably talented, but with little to show for it. Romar desperately needs Pondexter to relieve some of the front court scoring pressure off Brockman. Much of the season's backcourt hopes have been pinned on the contributions of the talented, but inexperienced freshmen.
Outlook: Washington has the talent and depth to make some serious noise in the Pac-10. Much of the hype has been focused on Thomas, who brings a confidence and swagger sorely missing the last two seasons. The 5-foot-9 Tacoma, Wash. native will step into the teams starting point guard role immediately with the significantly improved Dentmon sliding to shooting guard. With a more versatile back court and a deep front court led by the All American candidate Brockman, the team should finally have the roster balance to compete with the top tiered teams. Unfortunately, after two frustrating years of disappointing basketball, most of the momentum generated during the teams back-to-back sweet sixteen appearances has evaporated, and Romar badly needs to return his team to the NCAA tournament. Fortunately, there are enough pieces in place to do just that.
Key Losses: Appleby PG, Morris SG
Incoming Class (2008 recruiting National Rank #22):
Scott Suggs SG
Elston Turner, Jr. SG
Tyreese Breshers PF
Isaiah Thomas PG
PG Thomas FR
SG Dentmon SR
SF Pondexter JR
PF Brockman SR
C Bryan-Amaning SO
The Sun Devils have one season left to declare their return to the upper half of the Pac-10 before Harden and Pendergraph are gone.
The Good: James Harden never wavered in his desire to return to ASU for his sophomore season, and as a result the Sun Devils will compete for a Pac-10 championship. Harden isn't just good, he's fantastic, and the lefty off-guard spent the offseason working on his physical conditioning, something considered his only deficiency last season. Harden's versatile game conjures up images of Brandon Roy; a consummate team player who can run the point, shoot the three, and wreck havoc in the lane. And he is just as committed to defense as he is to offense. Jeff Pendergraph has quietly carved out a sterling career at Arizona State and anchors the ASU post as one of the more efficient players in the country. Ty Abbott emerged from his freshman season as a much needed secondary scoring threat for Herb Sendek but he needs to improve on his miserable shooting percentage (39.2) for the Sun Devils to crack the top tier of the conference. The Devils feature a wealth of quality role players who will earn big minutes in the back court: Jerren Shipp, Derek Glasser and Jamelle McMillan all saw significant action last season and will be heavily relied on again this year. Rihards Kuksiks saw an increased role at off-guard late in the season, averaging 8.7 points in his final 12 games.
The Bad: As good as Harden and Pendergraph are, there are still five positions to fill, and Ty Abbott was the only other player to step up and make his presence felt on the court. The Sun Devils badly need another scoring option to emerge and take some pressure off Harden, who they risk wearing out as the season grinds on. There is little to no depth in the post as well. Center Eric Boateng is a former McDonald's All American transfer from Duke who has yet to showcase the promise his prep career suggested he should. It's questionable how big a leap last year's freshmen will make this season. As a team, the overall talent ceiling isn't nearly as high as many of their Pac-10 opponents and it will be up to Sendek to coax them into achieving their maximum potential.
Outlook: The Sun Devils may have gone from one of the most underated teams in the country to the most overrated team in the conference in the blink of eye. Losing nine of their final 14 games suggests that opponents figured out how to counter their limited offensive options and zone defense, but there are still plenty of reasons for optimism if you are an ASU fan. Harden is one of the finest players in the country and a candidate for National Player of the Year. Pendergraph is a reliable work horse, and the back court is deep with skilled role players who played big minutes last season. Sendek has fans in Tempe believing, and his team appears ready to make a serious run in the Pac-10 this season.
Key Losses: None
Johnny Coy SF
Taylor Rohde PF
PG Glasser JR
SG Harden SO
SF Abbott SO
PF Pendergraph SR
C Boateng JR
The Cougars need big things from their fantastic recruiting class.
The Good: Tony Bennett just might be the next big thing, spurning Indiana and a host of other high profile programs to spend another season in Pullman. That's good news for Cougar fans who watched in delight as Bennett quietly hauled in the finest recruiting class in school history, a class that includes Klay Thompson, who could emerge as one of the biggest surprises of the Pac-10. The ultra-versatile wing is a deadly shooter who has the potential to replace graduated star Kyle Weaver in time. The Cougars feature Australian center Aron Baynes, a 270-pound brute with a fierce temper and skills to match. Baynes deserves mention among the conference's top posts, provided he can find a way to stay out of foul trouble. Senior point guard Taylor Rochestie captains the back court and is reliable as they come. The unselfish Rochestie delivered a Pac-10 best 2.81 assist-to-turnover ratio last season while also posing as a scoring threat from anywhere on the court. Forward Daven Harmelling is the team's best shooter and will be joined by senior Caleb Forest, providing experienced depth at the forward positions. The team's fortunes this season may rest on the shoulders of sophomore Fabian Boeke of Germany, as the team tries to find a reliable replacement for Robbie Cowgill.
The Bad: The Cougars have a lot of new faces to integrate into Bennett's complicated system. With only five returning players, WSU will be heavily reliant on contributions from freshmen. In a conference as experienced as the Pac-10, that's not a good thing. They lost two of the best players in the conference to graduation in Kyle Weaver and Derrick Low and few realize just how important Weaver was. He had an impact similar to that of Washington's Brandon Roy and Oregon's Aaron Brooks and there's simply no way to replace him. The biggest question mark is how Rochestie adjusts to life without his two back court mates, who drew the bulk of the defensive attention. The potential exists for him to take a step backwards as he becomes the team's feature guard.
Outlook: Despite the Cougars' overall lack of experience, anyone who counts out Coach Bennett's team is a fool. His players buy into the team concept wholesale, and the team's attention to defense, combined with the slower tempo will make it hard for opponents to find much breathing room. That said, the Cougars may find it tough at times generating offense or matching up with the conference's stable of experienced athletes, especially when Baynes and Rochestie are on the sidelines. For Washington State to compete they'll need to avoid lapses in defense that allow opponents easy buckets while managing the pace of the game. If they can do that and keep Baynes out of foul trouble, the Cougars will again make life miserable for opponents.
Key Losses: Cowgill PF, Low SG, Weaver SF
Michael Harthun SF
Klay Thompson SF
James Watson PF
Marcus Capers SF
Nick Witherill SG
DeAngelo Casto, F
PG Rochestie SR
SG Thompson F
SF Harmeling SR
PF Koprivica JR
C Baynes SR
The Arizona era of the Pac-10 has come to an end. Can a talented roster overcome a declining program in turmoil?
The Good: The Wildcats got a huge jolt of good news when forward Chase Budinger decided to delay his NBA fortunes and return for his junior year. Jordan Hill also returns as one of the top post players in the country and will doubtless become a focal point of an offense that normally relies on its backcourt to carry the bulk of the scoring load. Speedy point guard Nic Wise shined playing in place of Jerryd Bayless before being felled by a knee injury, and will provide stability to a backcourt that faces a trial by fire. Jamelle Horne appears ready to make a bigger impact as the team return to its running roots.
The Bad: Lute Olson's brief return and subsequent retirement put the finishing touches on one of the greatest roller coaster rides in modern D1 basketball history. Rehashing the Wildcats extraordinary collapse over the last year and a half seems like rubbing salt in a festering wound, but it's safe to say that the program may never be the same as a result. While the front court seems solid with Budinger and Hill, the back court is a disaster. Several unheralded freshmen will vie for the starting two guard spot and will be relied on to divert defensive attention away from Nic Wise. The team must avoid injuries at all costs as there is little to no depth behind the starters at any position. Interim Head Coach Russ Pennell will have to find some patience as his players are being forced to learn a third system in as many years.
Outlook: There's no denying the talent in the front court and with Nic Wise and Horne on the perimeter, Arizona should be able to match up talent-wise with the rest of the conference. Assembling talent hasn't been the problem for Arizona. The 'Cats have washed out of the first round of the NCAA tournament three times in the last five years and are teetering on the precipice of conference irrelevance after relinquishing their Pac-10 dominance several years ago. A mediocre Pac-10 field may mask some of the programs' troubles this season, allowing a shot at backdooring the NCAA tournament but it doesn't change the fact that the once-proud program we all knew is basically gone.
Key Losses: Bayless PG, Dillon PG, McClellan SG, Walters C
Incoming Class (2008 recruiting National Rank #11):
Brandon Lavender SG
Garland Judkins SG
Kyle Fogg SG
PG Wise JR
SG Lavender SO
SF Budinger JR
PF Horne SO
C Hill JR
The Mike Montgomery era begins as the Bears try to separate themselves from the middle of the Pac-10
The Good: Former Stanford and Golden State Warrior Head Coach Mike Montgomery returns to the Bay Area as one of the finest basketball teachers in the country. He definitely brings a dose of star power to a program often overshadowed by the other California Pac-10 schools. Cal averaged 75.1 points per game last season, leading the Pac-10, and the defensive-minded Montgomery will immediately shore up Cal's terrible defense (ranked at 296 of 328 D1 teams). They return the most underrated player in the Pac-10; shooting guard Patrick Christopher, one of the top pure scorers in the country. Jerome Randle is one of the quickest guards in the conference and stellar in transition, but needs to improve his control while tempering his over-penetration tendencies. Forward Theo Robertson missed all of last due to a hip injury and is probably the most versatile player on the team. The Bears recruited a potential Christopher clone in wing DJ Seeley, who should provide immediate scoring punch. Duke transfer Jamal Boykin quietly put up solid numbers during conference play (7.8 points per game, 3.8 rebounds per game) and forward Harper Kamp brings a competitive fire despite physical shortcomings.
The Bad: Ryan Anderson, the Pac-10's top scorer last season, took his brilliant shooting touch to the NBA after his breakout sophomore campaign, leaving Cal with a gaping hole at power forward. The Bears also lost 6-foot-11 center Devon Hardin. While never really capitalizing on his considerable potential, Hardin was still a dominating, physical shot-blocking presence in the middle. The Bears will be forced to play small ball unless 7-footer Jordan Wilkes takes a dramatic leap forward, something that appears less and less likely as time goes on. Without a reliable post player over 6-foot-7 the Bears are going to be at a significant disadvantage in a conference teeming with quality power forwards.
Outlook: The Bears will be competitive - there's no doubt about that, but the team's ability to compete for a NCAA tournament birth will hinge on of one of their post players taking a dramatic step forward, and that's far from a sure thing. Christopher is the dark horse to compete for Pac-10 Player of the Year honors and the guard play should be good enough to compete with the conference's finest. Though the Bears will likely be on the outside looking in come tournament time, they're good enough to make their presence felt while making the jumble in the middle of the conference even more interesting than last year.
Key Losses: Hardin C, Vierneisel SF, Anderson PF
DJ Seeley SG
Jorge Gutierrez SG
PG Randle JR
SG Seeley FR
SG Christopher JR
PF Anderson JR
C Wilkes JR
Senior-laden team will try and compensate for the missing twins in the middle.
The Good: First-year Head Coach and former Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins brings a new energy to a team in the midst of rebuilding. He inherits a pair of senior guards in Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods, who will at least keep the Cardinal in games. Johnson quietly emerged as one of the better floor leaders in the conference last season, and though he's just an average athlete, his decision-making and feel are top notch, and his shooting has improved each of his first three seasons. Goods has the potential to be one of the deadlier shooters in the conference if he can dial up some consistency. He's bull-strong for a guard and a legitimate 30-point threat on any given night, but has yet to put it all together night-in and night-out. Dawkins will also look to forward Lawrence Hill to re-emerge as one of the conference's top scorers. The sweet shooting senior saw his scoring diminish considerably last season dropping from 15.7 points per game to 8.6 as the focus shifted to the Lopez twins in the post. Forwards Josh Owens and Landry Fields will see their roles expand considerably this season as they lack a true post presence.
The Bad: There's no way to sugar-coat the loss of the Lopez twins and what their presence meant to the team. Worse, the post-Lopez era begins without any easy answer for the Cardinal in the post. Dawkins brings with him a more up-tempo system to players accustomed to a methodical pace, so it's anyone's guess how the veterans will adjust to the change. Furthermore, former Head Coach Trent Johnson's surprising departure to LSU derailed any hope for immediate help from a recruiting class short on impact talent, as top post recruit Miles Plumlee decommited and ironically headed East to Duke. With a painfully thin bench the Cardinal can ill-afford any injuries to their starters.
Outlook: It's likely to be a tough season for the Tree's now that they their "Trees" have left for the NBA. Dawkins lacks the athletes to fit his preferred style of play and without any low post threat, life in the half court is going to be interesting to say the least.
Key Losses: B. Lopez PF, R. Lopez C, Finger PF, Washington SF
Jarrett Mann SF
Jeremy Green, SG
Elliot Bullock C
PG Johnson SR
SG Goods SR
SF Hill SR
PF Paul SO
C Owens SO
The Ducks lose their top 3 players to graduation while welcoming a new crop of potential stars.
The Good: The best recruiting class in school history arrives just in time to keep the wolves gathering to oust Head Coach Ernie Kent, who parlayed his efforts into a new long-term deal. Michael Dunigan is a big-time athlete and comparisons to a young Shaun Kemp go deeper than just his appearance. Though extremely raw, he is an explosive forward with an NBA body who should immediately make his presence felt, adding a new element to Oregon's offense. Three-point specialist Tajuan Porter is one of the conference's top pure shooters and should benefit from the carnage created by Dunigan under the hoop. Oregon's young returning players are better than their meager contributions last season suggest and should dramatically improve as they earn their shot in the spotlight. The Ducks' talented host of freshmen will compete for immediate playing time.
The Bad: The Ducks are young – really young - and Kent doesn't exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to developing young talent on a consistent basis. Oregon lost half of their scoring and rebounding after Mailk Hairston, Maarty Leunen and Bryce Taylor graduated, taking with them the team's vocal leadership. Dunigan is solid, but the only other post on the roster ready to make an impact is sophomore Joevan Catron who stands just 6-foot-4. Porter is strictly one dimensional, but that won't stop him from shooting. Defenses will prepare accordingly.
Outlook: This season will be a rebuilding year for the Ducks. Porter struggled when Aaron Brooks left and without Taylor and Hairston by his side, things are likely to get worse for the diminutive shooter. Dunigan provides a legitimate post presence defensively, but like all freshmen posts will endure a steep learning curve against a conference loaded with quality power forwards. The Ducks' system relies on the three-point shot, and Kent recruited accordingly so opponents are in for a non-stop barrage from outside. With little to no depth in the post, the Ducks will again rely on four guard sets; not an easy transition for freshmen guards unaccustomed to guarding forwards. There's much promise long term for the Ducks but it isn't going to happen overnight, and that will make for a trying season in Eugene.
Key Losses: Hairston SF, Leunen PF, Taylor SG
Incoming Class (2008 recruiting National Rank #21):
Michael Dunigan C
Matthew Humphrey SG
Drew Wiley SF
Teondre Williams SF
Josh Crittle C
Garrett Sim PG
PG Porter JR
SG Brown SO
SF Williams FR
PF Catron JR
C Dunigan FR
The rebuilding process has begun.
The Good: Former Head Coach Jay John is gone, replaced by Brown Head Coach Craig Robinson. Gone too are talented, but dysfunctional malcontents, CJ Giles and Marcel Jones – and that's a good thing. The Tarver Brothers are back; Josh and Seth are two quality young players who got dealt a tough hand, hoping to salvage their waning college careers as they toil in a program that failed them. They deserve better. Omari Johnson and Roeland Schaftenaar are better than their meager performance thus far suggests, and Oregon State's fortune this year may rest on their maturation. Utah transfer Daniel Deane will be expected to play big minutes from the get-go.
The Bad: Where to start? The Beavers lack any reliable outside shooting – they shot a miserable 29 percent last season. They don't return any reliable post players. There's little depth and no impact freshmen to surprise. In other words, it's a mess that doesn't appear to be getting better any time soon.
Outlook: Why beat a dead horse? Oregon State is going to be terrible and Robinson's first job is to stabilize a program in freefall. If early recruiting returns for the class of 2009 are any indication, he may have done that with two quality west coast prospects in Roberto Nelson and Joe Burton. It does nothing for the team's short-term prospects though, and they'll be anchoring the basement of the Pac-10 rankings for the foreseeable future.
Key Losses: Jones F, Giles C
Chris Richard G
Daniel Deane F
PG J. Tarver JR
SG S. Tarver JR
SF Johnson SO
PF Deane SO
C Schaftenaar JR
2008 Pac-10 Basketball Season Preview
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